12 Dec 2016

Pike blockade: Call for PM to show compassion

9:39 pm on 12 December 2016

Twenty-nine freshly painted crosses mark a patch of Logburn Road where a make-shift checkpoint controls access to the Pike River Mine.

The makeshift checkpoint set up on the road to Pike River Mine by some of the families of the 29 men who died.

A makeshift checkpoint set up on the road to Pike River Mine by some of the families of the 29 men who died. Photo: RNZ/ Maya Burry

Work to seal the mine has stopped, after some of the families of the 29 men killed there six years ago blocked Solid Energy's access last night.

The families want to stop the government-owned company from permanently sealing the mine before it can be checked for bodies and evidence.

Solid Energy, which bought the mine's assets in 2012, says it is too dangerous to re-enter.

Labour leader Andrew Little said Prime Minister Bill English, who was officially appointed to the position today, should show some early leadership by meeting with the families to discuss re-entry to the mine.

Mr English said, while he would not have time to meet with them tomorrow, he could consider it at a later date.

The decision not to re-enter the mine was a matter of safety, he said.

A makeshift checkpoint set up on the road to Pike River Mine by some of the families of the 29 men who died.

The families have made their feelings clear. Photo: RNZ / Maja Burry

Mr Little said Mr English should show some compassion.

He said re-entering the mine was a political issue because Mr English's predecessor, John Key, promised he would do all he could to bring the men's bodies out.

More than 100 people gathered at the wooden gate roadblock today.

The protesters said they had taken legal control of part of the road leading to the mine, and were deciding who could go up it.

Some of the families would take an expert report on re-entering the mine to Parliament on Tuesday.

Colin van der Geest - the owner of the private road near the Pike River Mine

West Coast farmer Colin van der Geest gave the families control of the road to the mine. Photo: RNZ / Maja Burry

The farmer who owned the road to the mine, Colin van der Geest, said he had given the protesters legal control over it.

Mr van der Geest did so because "the opportunity was there ... to help", he said.

"It's the last chance for them to do something."

He hoped, politically, "with the changes at the top" they could "get some leverage out of it".

Solid Energy had not got in touch, he said.

'We know it can be done'

Sheryl Griffin, whose daughter Chloe was married to 33-year-old mine victim Kane Nieper, said being on the road this morning was sad, but a different feeling.

She hoped it would turn things around for families.

"I lie in bed every night and worry about my daughter and my grandson. They're in a house on their own," she said.

"People think you can move on... no-one knows what we go through.

"I want bloody justice. I want to get in that mine as far as we can go down.

"They can't close it up. We're going to keep going on and on like this.

"I'll never ever sleep properly until I know we've done everything we can to get evidence, justice.

"We've got guys there waiting to go in... specialists in New Zealand.

"We know it can be done."

Families aim for political leverage

Pike River Families Group Committee spokesman Bernie Monk, whose son Michael died in the explosion, said the mine was a crime scene. The families wanted to recover their loved ones' remains.

Bing Donaldson, a neighbour of another one of the men who died, Milton Osborne, said he hoped the roadblock would prompt dialogue with Solid Energy and the government.

Mr Donaldson said the protesters were happy to let the Department of Conservation through and anyone who needed to do safety work, but sealing the mine was not going to happen.

He hoped controlling the road would give the families some leverage.

"They have had to make appointments to go up there to be near to their family members inside the mine and now Solid Energy are going to have to make the same arrangements, just to get inside those gates."

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